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Argument ellipsis in Colloquial Singapore English and the Anti-Agreement Hypothesis1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 November 2013

National University of Singapore
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This paper provides new data from Colloquial Singapore English (CSE) showing a hitherto unnoticed subject–object asymmetry: empty objects, but not empty subjects, exhibit sloppy/quantificational readings. According to a recent theory of argument ellipsis in Japanese/Korean (Oku 1998; S. Kim 1999; Takahashi 2007, 2008a, b, 2010), these readings obtain as a result of the LF-Copy of an overt argument from a full-fledged clause onto the corresponding empty argument position in an elliptical clause. Şener & Takahashi (2010) and Takahashi (2010) hypothesize that this operation is blocked by ϕ-agreement. This hypothesis provides a principled explanation for the subject–object asymmetry in CSE, coupled with the new observation that primary substrates of CSE – Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien and Malay – exhibit the same asymmetry as CSE. My analysis has significant implications for the comparative syntax of argument ellipsis and for theories of contact genesis. Among others, the analysis supports the claim (Miyagawa 2010) that Chinese possesses ϕ-agreement despite the lack of morphological manifestations. The results in this paper also provide strong evidence for the general substratist explanation on the emerging grammar of CSE (Bao 2005).

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I thank three Journal of Linguistics referees for helpful comments on this paper and Ewa Jaworska for superb editorial assistance with the publication of this paper. My thanks also go to Zhiming Bao, Qizhong Chang, Jim Huang, Chonghyuck Kim, Hisa Kitahara, Shigeru Miyagawa, Koichi Otaki, Daiko Takahashi, Kensuke Takita and Dwi Hesti Yuliani for valuable discussions. This paper would not have been possible without the help of many individuals who provided me with data and judgments from various languages: Qizhong Chang, Liangcai Chen, Jun Hao Ho, Randy Peh, Zechy Wong and Jianrong Yu (Colloquial Singapore English); Derek Ho Leung Chan and Vivian Liu Wai Ling (Cantonese); Wan Yee Lim (Hokkien); Hansah Bte Abdul Hadi, Nurul Azizah Bte Johari, Muhammad Kamal Ikmal Shahril, Muhammad Hamdan Bin Rahmat and Siti Rasyidah Bte Shiehk A H (Malay); and Eni Yuliana and Dwi Hesti Yuliani (Javanese). All errors are mine. This research is supported in part by the start-up grant from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at National University of Singapore.


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